Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Gates and Mango Seeds

Still too tired to blog properly; my apologies to those eager to find out how the Battle of 'F' Coy Accommodation ended with our hero explaining why he had set fire to MOD property, I will get round to finishing that chapter, I promise.

I asked the Filipino carpenter to make me a gate for Stalag Luft III.  I wanted something light, no more than a frame on which I could hang shade netting.  He supplied me the sort of door I last saw on an explosives storage bunker except that this one was about a tonne or so heavier.  It came complete with frame hewn out of mighty eucalyptus trunks. It took four hefty labourers to unload it from the truck and dump it in the driveway.  There was no chance that Dominic and I could shift the thing an inch.  The hinges were nice though, so I got the old battery screw driver out, salvaged the hinges and left the rest lying where it was. 

Obviously, I still needed a gate to hang on my nice hinges so Dominic and I set to it.  Tired of lugging bloody great lumps of timber around I selected the lightest bits of scrap I could find.  Dominic kept pointing out that in his opinion, it was too flimsy until I pointed out to him that until the last rivet is driven home, 747's are pretty flimsy as well.  I love engineering and like simple, thought through economies.  For instance, he asked me how wide the gate should be, so I told him to measure the width of the wheelbarrow and add ten centimetres.  He wanted to know how we could get the gate squared off without a set square.  'Easy, you do it by eye but there is another way,' I said showing him.  'If opposite corners are equidistant then it is a perfect rectangle'.  I took the measurements.  I was way out so hit the offending corner with a hammer.  I love sharing the lazy skills acquired over a lifetime with my eldest boy.

There is only one way he is going to learn and that is by letting him do it.
It is all scrap wood so if he ballses it up, we just build another one!
Considering this is the first time he has ever chiselled a hinge rebate, he is doing very well.
I finish hanging the gate...
...give it a test close...
...and am very pleased!
We spent the rest of the day pre cutting all the timber we would need to build the Cooler for Stalag Luft III where the inmates can lay their eggs and the broody ones brood.  Klein has not let me down and I already have a number to ring when I am ready for my hens, ducks, feeders and feed.

I had just enough time left before supper to show the boys how to germinate Mango seeds:

These were seeds of Mangoes we had eaten the day before.  All I did was clean them and let them dry.
Using a kitchen knife, I scraped one of the edges...
...then got my fingernails in there and levered the husk apart...
...and carefully removed the seed within.
Just as is done with Avocado seeds, I pierced it, not too deep, with three toothpicks...
...and suspended it over a cut down plastic mineral water bottle
which I filled to the top with clean water.
On the left is one I started 12 days ago which is now ready to be potted.
Note the long tap root which appears first and the stem complete with developing leaves.
I am using an old paint bucket as a pot.
The soil is a mixture of loamy soil, goat poo, rotten heart of palm and wood chips.
I punched a hole down deep enough to take the root and planted the seedling with the seed
just on the surface and watered it in.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

For Want of a Nail...

No nails so all work has stopped.  Naturally, I was supposed to be annoyed and champing at the bit but actually, I was rather relieved and Dominic doubly so.  There were things we could have been getting on with.  Cutting the base boards to go round the outside of Stalag Luft III to deter tunneling for example.  I could also have cut the timbers to make door and frame but neither Dominic nor I could muster a sufficient head of steam to gain steerage way.  Without an excuse, though, idleness is hard to forgive while there is still breath left.  Thankfully, Klein pitched up unexpectedly from Germany late yesterday afternoon and decided to accept an invitation to supper and stay the night.  Tools were downed, bodies washed and I got on with the much more relaxing task of rustling up a chicken curry.  Klein’s favorite tipple is whisky and cola but having overcome his shock at learning he was seeing me sober for the first time in the fifteen years we have known each other, he was too considerate to think about drinking in front of me.  Nice of him but all bollocks, why should social drinkers suffer because an old alcy has finally seen sense?  I hauled a bottle out and poured him a drink.  After that he helped himself.

Klein slept so soundly that by ten this morning I was ready to check his pulse; having a German national die in his sleep in my house so soon after eating one of my curries would take some explaining.  It was lunchtime before everyone was truly up and about.  Instead of hard labour, therefore, the rest of the day was given over to a rather more civilized guided tour of all three sites.  And this was a good thing.  It meant that Alex, Dominic and I actually spent quality time together with Klein.  There was no hurry, we just ambled and were easily and pleasantly distracted by the so often overlooked little things.  I caught a lizard and demonstrated how, when alarmed or angry, it would change colour from a dull and drab brown camouflage to iridescent blue.  Even Klein, who I thought had seen everything, was impressed.  Back home we discussed top bar bee hives and how to catch a swarm.  I told Klein that my enthusiasm for apiarism had been dampened by Marcia who refused to countenance hives in the garden.  Like the bees he is so evidently fond of, he had Marcia sipping nectar from his hand and authority for a hive was duly granted.  An impressive feat given Marcia had been stung by a bee only two days before.  As an agricultural consultant to the Angolan government on behalf of the German government, he knows everyone who matters and promised me good laying hens and ducks to stock Stalag Luft III.

A lazy day but by no means a wasted one.

Harald Klein and Alex with the dogs, Eddie, Charlie and Doggie.
Dominic studying a bit of wood, me drinking Fanta and Alex testing the recently installed steps
One of the cottages showing skylight detail
Foundations going in for the next  of four cottages
The nicely settled in pond.  Full of pan sized fish, just begging for a few willow trees
A normal coloured lizard
Which, if rudely snatched from its reverie, turns blue with apoplexy
Just as I did when I discovered the builders had managed to set fire to the toilet
Eddie and Charlie taking a breather in the shade
Last job of the day, water the raised beds

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Bloody useless South African DSTV!

For the last four weeks, Friday nights at 1900 hrs would find me sat on the sofa in front of the TV watching Endeavour.  I was pretty sceptical about a 'Young Morse', especially since I loved the original Morse series and once owned every single episode on VHS and DVD. 

I watched the first episode of endeavour and was hooked,  Then, the following Friday, I watched it again.  DSTV had promised episode two but reran episode one.  DSTV does that all the time.  Why?  Because they are wankers.  Then, two Fridays ago, DSTV aired episode two and I was once more content.  Last Friday, I was treated to episode three and I was ecstatic.

Marcia knows that this is the only programme I really, really enjoy watching, such is the drivel those bishop bashers at DSTV screen, so I was ever so pleased when she called me in from the garden to tell me that my programme had started.

I was confused.  For a start, the music in Endeavour is by Barrington Pheloung and is haunting.  What I was hearing now was discordant crap.  Then instead of Shaun Evans' face, I saw Benedict Cumberbatch's.  I pressed the information button on the remote.  Sherlock.  Those effing knob polishers.  After giving us month's of adverts, teasers and previews for Endeavour, they give us three episodes and then, without so much as a by your leave, drop it in favour of yet more inane fodder for the mentally deficient.  I can put up with all sorts of shit living here but being dependant on South Africans for my TV programmes really irritates me.

So, bitterly disappointed, I went back to my garden, now very dark, and carried on watering the beds.

I cannot end my post on such a sour note so instead I will share with you a few photos of how I sink wells here.

First, you need to find water so make yourself a set of diviners
Then go for a walk and see where you get the strongest 'hit'
Get yourself a few of these delivered
Roll one of them over the spot, get inside it and start digging
As you dig, the weight of the concrete drainage pipe will drive it down.
I should have said, 'As one digs...' but didn't bother as smart people do not dig their own wells.
When the first sinks to ground level, roll another one on top
The use of child labour is recommended.  They fit in the hole easier.
Alex finishes his shift. 
Note the number of locals who have turned up to watch. 
They have had no access to potable water since independence. 
I showed them how easy it is to sink a well but they have not bothered, content as they are to
stand around with their hands in their pockets and send their wives to collect water from my well.
As the second section gets down to ground level, we hit water.
Now I need to get in a submersible pump to keep the well dry while we dig at least another metre.
The well will have required three 1.2 metre concrete sections and will be 3.6 metres deep.
Before finishing, I scoop up the rotten remains of an old palm tree.  Ideal for use in a potting soil mix. 
Charlie and Eddie think it is all a wonderful game and can't keep their noses out!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Life's a Square Cube

There are currently, actual numbers vary, two adults, three girls ranging in age from four to sixteen and three boys ranging in age from four to fourteen living in my house which has only one shower.  How long do you think it takes for all of them, one at a time, to have a shower?
I came in from work drawn, not least, by the intoxicating aroma of a decent feijoada simmering on the stove.  Now that I am working to my own drumbeat, I do cherish a good sluicing and a fresh change of clothes before sitting down to supper.  Last night, I ran out of nails so could not finish Stalag Luft III.  I cannot check in my flying guests until I know it is truly escape proof so rather than do nothing other than practice my ‘To cross ze vire is death!’ and ‘You, Chicken! Cooler!’, I decided to drive up to the restaurant site and nick all the extra scrap wood I needed to add the little ‘extras’ I had dreamt up.  Things like watchtowers, three tiered bunks, solitary confinement cells for broody hens and anti-tunnel footings for the perimeter fence.  Naturally, my notion of scrap differed somewhat from that of the Master Carpenter but after a one sided negotiation, during which I pulled rank, I came away with a truck load of suspiciously uniform ‘scrap’. 

Unloading the truck once I arrived home was easy.  I am feeling a little stiff lately but that has been accompanied by an enormous sense of achievement, an emotion I, as a responsible father, was duty bound to share with my eldest son.  So I told Dominic to unload the truck while I watered the raised beds.
Anyone who has looked after children will recognize this formula:

V2 = V1(C2/C1)3
Where V1 is the original level of noise, V2 is the new level of noise, C2 is the new number of children and C1 is the original number of children.

If we classify noise on a scale of one to a hundred, where one is hardly noticeable and a hundred is where thoughts of infanticide are overwhelming, and accept that a single reasonably well behaved child playing by itself might hit the scale at two, V2 will equal V1 as C1 is equal to C2.  Now let us increase C2 to two with V1, the noise one child produces, remaining at two.  Plug in the new value and you will see that V2 now equals sixteen.  Increase C2 to three and the value of V2, the amount of noise generated by three children, becomes fifty four.  Make the value of C2 six and you are so far off the scale I wasn’t the least bit surprised to note that Marcia was a tadge frazzled as I walked into the house.  By the way, the same formula can be used to calculate the noise a single woman can make depending on how hard a man has to concentrate on whatever he is trying to do. 
It is highly unusual for me to finish work while daylight remains so I was looking forward to a nice cool shower followed by a bit of self-indulgent idleness while waiting for supper to be served.  I quickly shepherded the children into their room and ordered them to select clean clothes before a run through the shower.  I stripped off in my room and padded into the shower first.  No soap.  I sent Dominic off to the shop to get a bar while I read some blogs.  He returned, informed me soap was in the shower, and I carried on reading intending to at least finish the blog post I was on.  I heard the lock click shut on the bathroom door.  No matter, let the kid finish and then I’ll dive in.  I waited, and I waited.  Bollocks to this, I thought, and went back to my blogs.  No sooner one out, then another in.  Alright, perhaps it’s best to let all the kids shower first.  The third went in and the sun set.  Marcia invited me to table as supper was ready.  I asked her to wait until we could all sit around the table together and then banged on the bathroom door.  Numbers four and five child in together; total time now around forty five minutes.  I could hear Alex, one of the two, complaining vociferously.  Dominic went in on the hour.  By now I was pissed off and starving.  He took exactly twenty minutes.  Eighty minutes for six children to shower.  As he came out, I went in pausing only to tell him to time me.  Two minutes later I was out and a minute after that I was dressed.  Where any of the kids sitting at the table? Of course not.  They were too busy creating mayhem in the bedroom and, I have to confess, little Alex was the noisiest stamping, as he was, his rights as permanent resident on the others.

As we finally gathered around the table and a weary Marcia started serving, she asked her equally weary husband what she had done to deserve a child like Alex.
Never one to shy away from my own part in the matter I said,

‘Oh that’s easy Darling, you let me shag you.’

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A Day in the Life of Ivan ‘Hippo’ Denisovich

“Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eyewash.”

Starting to get light and I am awake.  Must be about 5.30.  Alex has his arms and legs hooked around me and is breathing deep and slow; he has an hour of kip left in him still.  Alex can be a restless bugger so I am not surprised to see that Marcia has swapped the matrimonial bed for his vacated one.
I gently untangle myself from Alex, slide out of bed and as quietly as aching limbs allow, pad round Alex’s bed to select a clean pair of undies from the shelf.  I step into them and my work shorts, grab my sandals and stumble off to the bathroom where I ease springs, splash water over my face and peel my eyelids fully open before giving the old teeth a good seeing to.

In the kitchen, I set the kettle on to boil and then head out to the washing line to select one of five identical khaki short sleeved shirts that dried on the washing line overnight.  The hounds, their night’s watchdog duty over, come belting towards me in excitement vying for attention and doing their best to get underfoot and trip me up.  The air is crisp and clean, belying the sweaty heat to come. 
Pulling on my shirt, I stroll over to the seed beds and inspect progress.  Apart from the Kohlrabi, bugger all.  No sign of the leeks, carrots, tomatoes, water cress, marjoram, sage or thyme I planted with eager anticipation.  Perhaps the seeds after so long in storage were stuffed?  Only time will tell, I suppose.  I continue on to the generator, check the oil and water and then switch it on.  I hear the well pump kick in and I stretch out the hose and give the beds a good watering.

Kettle is boiling furiously as I walk back into the kitchen.  I make myself a big mug of tea and sit drinking it on the stoep thinking about how far down my list of things to do I am.  I have built and filled all the raised beds, 60 square metres of them which required twenty cubic metres of rich soil to be dug out and transported by wheel barrow to the beds.  I had built the shelter for the generator and finished its roof yesterday.  The radiator had been removed from the Jeep to be sent into town for reconditioning and it had come back, all clean and pressure tested last night.  Refitting it would be my first job of the day. 
Over the weekend, I had dug another well on site 3, a hundred metres down the road and had hit water at 2.5 metres.  My old submersible pump is stuffed so I need to find another one so that I can pump the water out as I dig at least another metre.  Good submersible pumps are readily available and cheap as chips in the civilized world.  Here they are expensive and crap.  Just another reminder of how things either take ages here or are never completed through lack of decent tools and equipment. 

Yesterday I had sawn the eucalyptus logs which will form the supports for the 5 x 12 metre enclosed chicken run to length, dug the metre deep holes they needed and sunk them into the ground.  I had to stop last night because I ran out of 12 cm nails.  The builders will bring me some from the restaurant site this morning and then I can finish off fitting the battens that will support the shade netting sides and roof.   I need to dig a small pond so the chucks and ducks have clean water and dig a trench so I can bury the irrigation pipe that will feed it.  I will need cement to make the pond.  I added cement to the shopping list.  I have aggregate sitting in a big pile over at the restaurant site so I will need to take the truck and shovel a load onto it.  On the way back I need to stop at site 3 and load up the unused building blocks.  More hot and sweaty manual labour.  Still, the weight is falling off me and while I may not feel it, I am at least looking healthier.  I finished the last of my tea.  Bugger, I thought, I still have loads to do.
Frank appears all sleepy eyed so I tell him to grab all the tools from under the stoep and take them over to the chicken run.  Without nails, there was little to be done there so I make him help me fit the radiator.  Naturally, there is a bolt missing.  Usually if I take something apart and then reassemble it, I end up with a handful of bolts and screws the manufacturer evidently did not need but this is a bolt I definitely cannot do without.  True to the cost saving mantra with which anything is constructed nowadays, this one bolt secured the left hand side of the radiator, the air con cooler and the bonnet slam plate.  In such circumstances it is always best to remain calm allowing for clear thought, a mental state not helped by Marcia breathing down my neck complaining about how I am ruining her day and muttering darkly that her friend had managed to remove the radiator in only a few minutes so why was it taking me so long to refit it?  Clearly, to work out what had happened to the bolt, I must think like Marcia’s mechanic.  Or stop thinking altogether.  As I dummy fit the radiator, I realize I am missing much more than just a bolt.  The plastic grill of the car is loose yet I cannot see any brackets to attach it.  The radiator should bolt to the air con rad.  I examine the brackets on the radiator and see the flanges through which the bolts specific for the aforementioned purpose pass are torn.  I examine the corresponding flanges on the heat exchanger and see one nut and bolt hanging there.  I can see that an Allen key is required to remove this bolt.  Now I realize that the rubber bushes into which the radiator bottom locating pins fit are missing.  Then I notice that the bottom hose has been hacked off.  I know this to be true because a hose that has been clipped will bear the crimp marks as witness and the end of it will have a smooth finish.  Now I have a hose that is probably too short and of the jubilee clip I need to secure it, also no sign.  I add up all the evidence and come to the conclusion that all Marcia’s mechanic had done was undo the few bolts he could, remove the slam plate and then, for lack of the correct tools, just ripped the radiator out.

I feel rage welling inside me.  I want to scream and curse.  I want to kill Marcia’s mechanic.  The fucking useless twat!  Even if I could find replacement parts, they would cost a fortune.  The car has survived over a decade and nearly quarter of a million kilometres only to be fucked in less than half an hour, if Marcia is to be believed, by an Angolan.
Marcia calls us all in for breakfast.  We have run out of porridge so it is rice pudding instead.  You may think rice pudding is an unusual first meal of the day but I can assure you, with a few hours of work under your belt, there’s nothing like the sweet stickiness of rice pud to fire up the old boilers again.  Marcia asks me how I am getting on.  I detect frostiness and am tempted to let fly a broadside but settle for a milder form of truth.  I am, I tell her, taking the opportunity to do a few other jobs on the car.  Marcia reminds me she wants the car urgently in a ‘stop fucking around and get it done’ tone of voice.  She gives everyone a second helping of rice pud but pointedly does not serve me any extra.  Instead, she asks me whether she should call her mechanic to give me a hand.  Rather than even attempt a smile, which I know would be all too wintry, I leave the table.

Breakfast with the crew
I collect from a drawer in my desk a set of Allen keys, a roll of wire, insulating tape, some odd bolts and washers, some long cable ties and then call the builders who still have not turned up with my nails.  Have you ever tried explaining to a Filipino who does not speak English what a bottom hose and jubilee clip are?  I want him to remove the bottom hose from the old Cummins generator and bring it with its clips to me along with the nails.  I run out of phone credit before I am even remotely convinced he has understood.  Fine, so long as he pitches up with my truck, I can drive back to the site and do the job myself.  In the meantime, I get on with wiring and cable tying my car back together.  I manage to get the bolt requiring an Allen key off despite its stripped threads and slowly refit everything as it should be.  A test fit of the bottom hose reveals it is just long enough but without a jubilee clip, I am still stuffed.  Then I remember the box of surplus plumbing parts hidden away under the house.  I crawl through the dirt disturbing a swarm of hungry sand flies and find it.  I search for a good ten minutes through the box and am literally itching to scream when I find two clips, a bit on the large size but I pray that they will screw tight enough.  I crawl out from hell and then wonder why I hadn’t just hauled the box out and inspected its contents in comfort.
The clips fit and I am pleased.  Marcia stalks up to me while I have my head under the bonnet and tells me that she has cancelled her appointments and will now only go into town tomorrow because I have taken far too long and don’t I know how bad the traffic is at lunchtime?  I mean to answer but at that moment my spanner slips and I graze my knuckles and curse.  Marcia lets fly at me for swearing at her.  I straighten up to tell her I wasn’t cussing her, I was just saying bad things about her God but it is too late, she has already stomped off.  I can hear her telling all the clients in the shop what an incompetent fool I am and if only I had just let her call her mechanic.  The clients titter sympathetically.

Everything is now as it should be so I must now fill the radiator with a mix of water and anti-freeze.  Somewhere I have a five litre container of it.  I used to keep it next to my desk but I notice it has disappeared.  I risk asking Marcia.  She tells me it is in the shop.  I trudge back to the shop and ask the idiot boy Marcia has serving there.  He produces a mostly empty container.  I ask him where it has all gone.  He tells me he has been putting it in the generator.  I ask him if the generator is using water.  He tells me lots.  I do not bother asking him why nobody has called this to my attention and add a thorough check of the generator cooling system to my long list of things to do.  I am very thirsty so I ask the moron to fill the container with water from the tap outside the shop while I select a cold can of tonic water from one of the fridges.  As I pour the first of it down my parched throat I glance outside to see the mong tipping away the last of the anti-freeze.  ‘But you told me to fill it with water!’ he said.  I knew I shouldn’t even have bothered asking.  If there is a God, only he knows what goes through these exceptional examples of the minds He created.
I finally fit the radiator cap and go to start the car.  The starter relay clicks like a toy machine gun.  The car battery is dead and this is my fault.  The job took much longer than I expected and all that time the car doors were open with the interior lights blazing their way through the battery’s juice.  Well, not all my fault.  Marcia’s mechanic had not latched the bonnet shut so the under bonnet light had been burning for two days.  Deep down I knew that a cardinal rule when working on vehicles is to disconnect the battery first.  I look around but there is thankfully no sight of Marcia.  Just then the builders turn up with nails, a saw and, bugger me sideways, a bottom hose and two jubilee clips.  They tell me they took so long because the hose was seized onto its fittings and they had to be ever so careful while easing it off so as not to damage it.  I thank them, hand them a ten mil spanner and tell them to fetch the battery from the truck. 

I used to have a set of jump leads, like I used to have a full tool kit and all sorts of power tools, like I used to have a video camera, my deceased father’s gold watch, loads of things but they have all been stolen so I am not going to jump the car safely.  I perch the truck battery under the bonnet as close to the car battery as I can, hold it in place with my gut and make the connection using two large spanners across the terminals.  I tell one of the builders to crank the engine over.  He floors the throttle.  5.2 litres of V8 American muscle screams into life and I step back in shock.  The truck battery falls to the driveway and cracks open.  The concrete fizzes and I shout at God again.  The builder thinks I am shouting at him so switches the car off.  This time I shout at him.  Alex, who had appeared to say hello to the builders, repeating it perfectly, asked me what the very bad word I had used meant.  You should never use that very bad word, I tell him, and I was wrong to call the builder that, I said.  Of course I was wrong to call the builder that, I think to myself, cunts are useful.
In front of our property is a car.  It has been in front of our property for nearly three months.  One day, three guys had driven up in it, had a few drinks at our shop but when it came time to leave, the car would not start.  They promised they would be back with a mechanic.  After a month, I drew the attention of the police to the car suggesting that in my opinion it may have been stolen.  Weeks later, I asked the police about the car.  They confirmed it had been stolen and they would come and collect it.  In the meantime, someone has broken into it and nicked the radio and spare wheel.  I hand the ten mil back to the builders and tell them to nick the battery off this car while I go and fetch my battery charger.  Marcia catches me walking out of the house with the charger and asks me what’s wrong.  The car battery is dead, I tell her.  What about the truck battery? She asks me.  That’s dead too I say truthfully.

The builders settle down for lunch and I make myself scarce at the back of the garden and start cutting battens to length for the chicken run.  An hour later I feel the battery has enough charge which it does, the car starts and I keep it running.  The battery even has enough charge to start the truck which I also leave running.  I get inside the car and switch the air-conditioning on full blast so as to load the engine.  I want to see if it runs hot.  I am busy sawing battens when I hear the car stop.  I am annoyed.  It hasn’t had enough time to run really hot and in all probability it will not have charged the battery enough.  I brace up for a shout at someone and hurry to the car.  There is no one around.  I look in the car; all the ignition lights are on.  I try and start the car and the engine turns over nicely but does not start.  I look at the petrol gauge.  It is showing empty.  Marcia is inside watching a soap so I grab some cash from the till and drive to the petrol station in the truck.  I get back and have the car juiced up and running just as the soap ends. 
I have missed lunch so I turn my attention to the chicken coop.  I cannot find my hammer.  No point asking Frank to search around for me, even though since he had packed the tools away last night and stuffed them under the house, he was best placed to do so.  No sign of it under the house, nor the last place I used it.  Oh well, I would just have to manage with the flat end of an axe, not exactly a handy tool for driving in nails while balancing precariously on the top of a knackered aluminium step ladder. 

I am using salvaged wood.  After over a year in the sun and what little rain we have enjoyed, it is well seasoned but sadly warped.  Being an African hardwood, it is also as hard as the nails I am using.  The top row of battens has to be nailed to the equally tough eucalyptus poles exactly 225 cms off the ground, the height of the poles.  I try but fail to do this by myself, the battens at four metres long are just too awkward for me to handle while trying to balance on the step ladder hanging onto an axe and a nail.  I give up and go and find Frank.
I carefully explain to Frank what I want him to do.  It cannot be easier.  All he has to do is hold his end of the batten up as high as he can while I nail the other end to a pole.  Driving a 12 cm nail through one bit of hardwood into another bit of hardwood is not easy.  To be honest, I think I would not be able to do it with an ordinary hammer.  The back of the axe is good, I think, it is heavy.  I can tell when I am hitting the nail straight on the head because it sings a note to me with each perfect strike.  I am nearly through the batten and about to start driving into the pole when Frank notices that his end is not lying square on the pole.  Of course it isn’t, it is warped.  I take an almighty swing with the axe just as Frank decides to twist his end flush.  The nail twists away from me and I hit my left index finger a mighty wallop.  The end of my finger bursts and squirts blood.  I squeal and fall off the ladder.  Frank laughs.

The blood makes the nails slippery so I ask Alex if he could spare me one of his plasters.  I show him my Doi Doi, a babyish term derived from the Portuguese for pain which he uses to describe any injury from a slight graze to decapitation.  He disappears into the house and takes an age.  Eventually he comes back with a plaster on his knee.  Sowwy Daddy, he explains, Mummy says we had only one left and I needed one for my knee.  I tear a strip from my handkerchief and tie my finger up.
I try again.  It is hard enough getting the nail through the batten.  Even lying the batten down on a hard surface and driving the nail in until it is just poking through makes no difference; as soon as the nail hits the eucalyptus, it just buckles into an ‘S’ shape.  I am really frustrated.  I tell Frank to fetch me a tonic water from the shop while I have a puff and a think.  I suddenly realize something I suspect Marcia has known for a long time.  I am an idiot.  Instead of trying to knock the nail into the side of the pole, why don’t I just nail the top row of battens to the top of the poles? 

With the top row complete, I decide I need two more poles but I don’t have any eucalyptus logs long enough.  These poles will be inside the chicken run and more or less obscured by the netting I was going to use to enclose the run so they did not have to look pretty.  I find four off cuts and decide to nail them together using scrap pieces of wood to make two poles of the right length.  I am glad that the builders brought me a big bag of nails because I am bending most of them but, with the sun setting, I have two poles.

Frank holding up a pole
Some fat old bloke holding up a pole.  You can hardly see the join...

I finish the work day as I started by watering the beds.  I am pleased to see more green shoots poking above the soil.  I can’t tell what they are.  I know what I planted but cannot remember where in the beds I planted the Marjoram, Sage or Thyme, all I know for certain is where I planted the watercress, tomatoes, leeks and kohlrabi and only the latter is showing any sign of life.  Maybe now I have some herbs as well.

I am far too tired to cook supper so I take out two frozen pizzas.  Alex likes pizzas, especially if I cover his with loads of sliced olives.  I like olives too but also load mine up with sliced red hot local peppers.  While the pizzas are in the oven, I strip off and have a shower.  The well pump is pretty much at its limit.  The house sits a few metres higher than the rest of the property so if the locals come to collect water and turn the tap on outside the shop, the water pressure in the house drops to zero.  I am fully lathered up when someone turns the shop tap on.  I call to Marcia but she and Alex have left the house and are down at the shop.  I wait patiently for the pressure to come back with the soap drying on my skin.  Then I remember the pizzas.  I wrap a towel round me and run out of the shower, through the lounge and into the kitchen.  No tea towels.  I can see the pizzas must come out of the oven now.  I peel my towel off and haul the pizza tray out.  I am standing there naked in the kitchen wondering where I can safely put the hot tray down when the veranda door slides open and Marcia walks in with two ladies from the Church. 

Look! Shouts Alex unnecessarily, Daddy’s naked!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Sorry I am late, I got caught up in the bush...

I would like you all to imagine that I wrote and posted this five days ago.  I didn't because I have been rather busy.  Later on, when I get the chance, I will write about the intervening five days.
Five days since I first fired up the new washing machine and the last load has just gone in.  Each cycle takes two hours so, starting at seven in the morning and knocking off at midnight, I have stuffed that machine 35 times.  I have used 3 kgs of washing powder, 2,275 litres of water and the thumb and forefinger of my right hand have squeezed a clothes peg 2,100 times.  I know the generator would have been running anyway but in that time it consumed 150 litres of diesel and I consumed 7.5 litres of DomTom, 25 cans of Sprite, 10 cups of tea, 10 litres of water, 3 litres of apple juice and 10 mls of E liquid as I puffed on my E cigarette.
Why all these boring stats?  Have you any idea how mind numbingly boring doing the laundry is?  I am sure some of you do but multiply that 35 times and you can imagine I needed to be exercising my mind while the machine frothed like a thrashed horse (Marcia did buy the wrong powder) lest I completely lost my marbles and started blogging about doing laundry.

Necessarily tied to the house I needed to find as many odd jobs as I could to fill in the time between feeding the machine and hanging stuff out to dry.   Being stone cold sober, such tasks were not hard to locate.  All the timber offcuts left over from the construction of two substantial wooden buildings were lying in the garden amidst a pile of sawdust and chippings because ‘the builders still needed them’.   Well bollocks to the builders, they had their chance so three months after moving in I sorted through the lot, salvaging anything useful and turning what looked like acres of an abandoned timber into three piles: definitely useful, might be useful and let’s have a big bonfire. 
The wildlife I disturbed was incredible.  Foot long millipedes thick as your forefinger (harmless), eight inch long centipedes an inch wide and only a quarter of an inch thick with vicious mandibles at the head end and flesh piercing pincers at the arse end.  These centipedes are so tough you can stamp on them and they will just dust themselves off and carry on attacking you.  Years ago I was sitting down minding my own business with bare feet.  I felt something tickle the top of my foot so swept my other foot over it to sweep whatever it was away.  Next thing I was off the chair howling like a slapped child.  Clamped with all its pairs of legs onto my foot was one of these malevolent insects.  Marcia whipped a sandal off and gave it a series of mighty whacks all the time screaming that they were deadly poisonous and that it must be killed or she would move out of the house.  Like any good infantryman under artillery bombardment, the centipede dug in and held on for grim death.  I hobbled over to the sideboard, grabbed a can of Sheltox and sprayed enough nerve agent over it, and my foot, to alert OPCW and still it hung on.  I had to use a table knife to flick it off whereupon it flashed across the floor under Marcia’s renewed bombardment before slipping through the impossibly narrow gap under the front door.  The top of my foot looked as though a skilled nurse had just removed a row of impeccably regular stitches.  That incident reminded me of a bed time story Mother once told me, I suppose I must have been about five years old, in which an Indian friend of hers had one of these things clamp on her forearm the removal of which could only be effected by severing the creature’s body from its legs using a sharp knife.  The legs, still embedded in the unfortunate lady’s arm festered and forever more, she bore the hideous scars of her encounter.  In case I hadn’t found that story soporific enough, Mother went on to tell me that the lady had been lucky.  These creatures seek warmth, she told me, but movement alarms them.  Should they come across a sleeping human, they will make for the warmest part of the body.  Now that bit of the story did make my botty twitch, after all, as a child I knew only too well where Nursy would stick her thermometer if I was feeling poorly but I need not have worried for, according to Mother, the warmest place on the human body is the skin above the jugular vein.  Even a movement as slight as the pulse of a beating heart is sufficient to cause the beastie to snap its legs into the vein like a multi spiked gin trap, ‘and that’, said Mother closing mine, ‘is curtains’.  Father always wondered why even on the hottest nights I wore my school scarf to bed.

Other creatures included land crabs, African house snakes, Goliath beetles, a couple of scorpions but no puff adders.  I was really looking forward to finding a puff adder.  I was wearing my boots and gaiters and had this weird idea that I was going to catch one and make it bite itself.  I’ve seen venomous snakes being milked so I was going to force its jaws open, stuff its tail in and hammer its gob shut.  I know I have just upset any yoghurt knitting foxy woxy cuddlers reading this but fuck ‘em, my love affair with deadly creatures has long since waned and now that I have a family to look after, if I see anything dangerous, it is dead.  Really enchanting were the normally shy birds.  They fluttered down out of nowhere and plucked insects and whatever else took their fancy from the disturbed wood piles: Golden Breasted Buntings (Emberiza Flaviventris), Common Waxbills (Estrilda Astrild), Blue Waxbills (Uraeginthus Angolensis a favourite of mine, loads are nesting under the thatch of the restaurant roof), another favourite, the Pintailed Wydah (Vidua Macroura) with its incredibly long tail, the bright yellow Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus Velatus), loads of sparrows, a Red Bishop (Euplectes Orix), iridescent green Glossy Starlings (Lamprotornis Splendidus) and loads more I could not find in Dominic’s pocket guide to Southern African birds.  He left it behind last visit, how else do you think I worked out what they were all called!
The burn pile was massive but perilously close to the litter pile and surrounded by palm trees that hadn’t seen rain in nearly a year so I had to wait until evening when the sea breeze switched between onshore to offshore providing a brief window of listless air.  The presence of litter annoyed me.  The builders had been on site a year and during that time had half-heartedly buried all their waste in shallow graves all over the plot.  Only inches beneath sand were hidden broken bottles, rusty cans, bits of wire, bent nails, plastic containers and other foot piercing or non-biodegradable detritus.  I had to rake every square metre of land and sift all this shit out.  It took me three days (in-between laundry duties) and by the time I had finished, I had a truck load piled up at the end of the driveway.  Worst was where instead of just burying it, they had set fire to it first.  All the bottles had shattered with the heat and the super-heated sand had set hard enough to defeat a rake leaving me with no option but to shovel the contaminated soil into a wheel barrow and cart it away to the litter pile.  You try pushing a laden wheelbarrow through sand on a bloody hot day.  When I started the job, I was convinced it would be an easy litter detail, light duties, but soon I was reminded of that old saying much loved by expatriate project managers in Africa which said that when you are up to your arse in crocodiles, it is hard to remember that the original intention was just to drain the swamp.  But I was damn well going to drain this metaphorical swamp as I was determined that my boy can run safely in bare feet across the lawn I will plant.

Given I had a decent pile of combustible material, it seemed a shame to waste it.  Weeds are quite awkward to burn efficiently and I had loads of weeds and scrub in that area of the garden so far unused and shaded by over thirty palm trees.  The trees, untended and unkempt as a result, not only looked horrible with their dangling desiccated thorny fronds, they were a fire hazard in themselves and jolly painful if brushed against.  So I decided to get rid of all the weeds and scrub and then, with axe and ladder, chop off as many of the dead fronds as I could reach.  At least I was working in shade although I would urge those tempted to use a tall step ladder on soft sand to have a little think about it first.  I didn’t.  Oh the ladder is stable enough as you climb up, the feet sink comfortably into the sand and all seems well, right up until you swing a bloody great axe over your head.  Mind you, if you are going to do something stupid, soft sand isn’t a bad place to do it.

A 'before' picture

Another before picture.  In amongst that lot I was reasonably confident I had some nice palm trees
I was really pleased with the end result.  So were the two lost missionaries and Japanese soldier I found.  It was pleasantly cool walking under the trees and the garden seemed so much bigger.  I had all this wood salvaged including six eucalyptus logs so I started wondering what I could build out of it.  The wood was all good and well-seasoned but unless I went to all the trouble of running it through a planer thicknesser, it was no good for anything other than very rustic.  Besides which, I am not a carpenter and I know my limits.  Just then Marcia arrived home.  Any thoughts I had of ardent praise and sympathy for cuts and bruises sustained evaporated as she launched into a tirade about gouging Lebanese importers deliberately restricting supply of staples to maintain inflated holiday season prices.

‘Can you believe it?’ she snarled, ‘even eggs are over twenty dollars a tray, if you can find them!’
Eggs!  Of course!  I would build the mother of all hen coops.  If I made it big enough, I could even raise Guinea Fowl.  If I made it even bigger, I could house Goosie and get him a couple of geese to hump.  I asked Marcia how much live geese were.

‘Four hundred dollars’, she said, ‘if you can find them.’
Four hundred bucks!  Bloody hell, I’d start raising geese!  After all, it can’t be hard, even affable gay Welsh raconteurs were successfully raising geese.  I’d have to dig a pond, of course, but I like digging ponds and I already had my well so fresh clean water was no problem.  Fresh eggs daily, Guinea Fowl for the pot and geese for my wallet.  Ducks!  Duck eggs are great; I’d need some ducks as well.  I re-paced the outline of my coop and added another twenty square metres.  I’d make it three metres high so the Guinea fowl could fly around and roost up high, and roof it with shade netting so they did not fly off.  All this time I had been thinking out loud.  Marcia rolled her eyeballs and walked off to the house.

The breeze petered out along with the setting sun.  Bloody hell, I come up with some good ideas, I thought as I set light to some kindling and tossed it on the bonfire.  The flames sputtered and fluttered for a few minutes, flickering through the scrub which popped and crackled and then suddenly the inferno took hold.  Flames shot twenty, thirty feet into the air, the whole garden, the wood built house and shop, all lit up by the orange glow.  Alex came running out of the house and stood wide eyed.  Clients from the shop came out to look.  Cars stopped on the road their drivers thinking the shop was on fire.  Just as quickly though, the fire settled down again and then quietly burnt, with me in nervous attendance, until one in the morning.
The following morning, Marcia and I surveyed my handiwork of the last few days.  I was really pleased.  I had a weed and litter free clean canvas with which to work.  All our clothes and linen had been washed and neatly folded.  Surely now a few encouraging words from Marcia would be mine?

‘Did you fix the cistern on the toilet?’ she asked.
Bollocks.  The one thing I forgot to do.

I need a taller ladder to get the last of those dead fronds
Now all I need to do is turn cleared ground to green lawn

It is going to look so nice!

So glad to get my boots off. (toe is looking miles better)...
...and finish the day with a real stick-to-yer-ribs stew!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Spring Cleaning


I crawled out of bed really early this morning.  Last night my new washing machine was delivered.  It weighs, I noticed on the warning label, 65 kgs and was, therefore, designated a two man lift.  Now sixty five kilos isn't exactly heavy but packaged in something as awkward as a washing machine, I guess it could be a bit of a handful.  Certainly the two Mr. Shifters made a meal of their suffering as they struggled up the steps to the veranda with it.  In fact they so overplayed their agony and woeful lot as serfs, rather than give them a tip, I got annoyed, told them to leave the bloody thing where it was and piss off.

At the crack of sparrows (actually, under the gaze of a curious Yellow Billed Hornbill) I was faced with being hoisted by my own petard.  The carton was secured with two plastic tape bands which cut into my hands as I tried to drag the carton up the steps.  It was very important to me to have the washing machine installed and ready to go before Marcia awoke.  The more awkward the carton behaved, the more the packaging snagged, the more bloody minded I became until finally I wrapped each hand in a tea towel and almost threw the thing up the steps.  I dragged it all the way into the shower room and sliced off the packaging.  All that was left was the polystyrene tray on which it was sitting.  I tried to get my arms as far around the machine as I could and heaved.  I dug my knees into the side and rolled back slightly lifting the bottom of the machine from the floor.  The packaging came with it.  I put the machine back down on the floor and searched around for my bollocks which I was convinced had popped out under the strain. 

Taking my eGo out of my pocket, I had a little vapour break and a swig of DomTom.  From the kitchen I fetched two chef's knives and from the garden I brought in two building blocks.  I stabbed a knife into opposite sides of the polystyrene base and placed a building block on each knife handle.  Grabbing the machine and heaving it off the deck I was pleased to see the packaging remained pinned to the floor.

This isn't the first new washing machine I have bought in my lifetime and I have never repeated the mistake I made with the first, which was to forget to remove the transit bolts before operating the machine.  On full spin, it behaved and was noisy as a jack hammer.  I leaved through the instruction manual to see where and how many transit bolts there were but was only able to find one line which stated that it was very important to remove the transit bolts before operating the machine.  No hint as to the location or quantity.  Buy anything here and the instructions are usually in Chinese so I was pleased they were in English.  They were bloody useless, however, and might as well have been written in Chinese.  In the end, after a careful examination, I found only three for which I would need a 14 mm spanner.  Opening my tool drawer I saw it was largely empty and of my spanners, there was no sign.  I searched the house as quietly as I could.  I used to get very excited when someone, usually Marcia, helped themselves to anything out of my desk but now I am crushed and resigned to the fact that with a woman in my house, nothing I have will ever be truly mine or worthy of respect again.  Having exhausted even the most unlikely of hiding places I turned to the shop.  I have often mentioned in passing how I detest the slimy shit Marcia has working for her in the shop.  This morning he came closer than he ever has to an unpleasant death.  He helped me search the shop from top to bottom, from display floor through to the stores and the loos.  It was then, only then, that he told me that Marcia had some spanners in the car. 

With the machine positioned and plumbed in, I pulled on my crampons, climbed to the top of the laundry pile and started sorting out loads for the washing machine, cotton whites, coloured cotton, synthetics, bulky items such as towels and sheets etc. and got the first load in before Marcia was on her feet.  Such industry on my part inspired the rest of the family and we started a general sorting out of clothes.  Some were honestly too far gone, washed out (the maids love bleach here) or full of holes. Some were too small or items that would never be worn again so they all went into the charity pile.  Every shelf was stripped bare, the items examined and either tossed or added to the laundry pile.  I had determined to spend the whole day and half the night if necessary washing every item of clothing, every sheet and pillow case, every throw, every table cloth and tea towel, anything that would benefit from a good soap sudding.  I know that once I am on top of the laundry, then it is a small matter to put a load in each day, there are only a few of us and we all generally run around in shorts and T shirts so hardly onerous a task.

The proof of the pudding came when I fetched the first white shirts through the wash off the drying line and compared them with a 'clean' white shirt yet to go through the wash.  The difference was astonishing.  The other thing I noticed was the absence of that cloying scent of mould all hand washed clothes exude in the tropics.  And as anyone who has suffered the awful irritation and misery of Dhobi Rash in the tropics will attest, there's nowt as can compare with clean, well rinsed keks.

"When I say I am washing every item of clothing, I mean EVERY item of clothing!!"